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Challenge: Back to School 2020

How Parents Can Help Kids Overcome the Digital Divide

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Six months into the pandemic, and we’re still adjusting — all of us.

For parents and kids, the biggest adjustment is education. Some kids are learning at home, some have hybrid schedules, and some are in class every day. They’re all doing more digitally, and most are managing just fine.

While we’ve come a long way, we can’t forget about the kids on the other side of the digital divide. And we owe all kids extra support as they transition from school into their careers.

“This year, perhaps more than any year in recent memory, we are seeing students actively engaged in how their educational trajectory will lead to a career trajectory,” says Karen Freberg, an associate professor at the University of Louisville. The good news, Freberg explains, is that skills like agility and remote learning connect well to the workplace. And sectors outside education are stepping in to engage students and fill gaps.

Content Builds Career Readiness

To understand how students are faring, Freberg points to a study by Instructure, a digital education management platform. Together with Hanover Research, Instructure dug into the state of higher education and career preparedness.

Of the college students surveyed, 80% listed career preparedness as the most important measure of success. When asked to identify factors in that success, 86% cited engaging content and hands-on education.

But engaging content isn’t just important for college kids. Keeping youngsters engaged in a digital environment is a team effort.

This spring, teachers and parents were winging it. Since then, states have begun adopting a unified platform to engage kids and keep parents in the loop.

To that end, 13 states are now using Canvas statewide. On the content side, many education systems are using Construct to develop new content and learning experiences. Construct focuses on interactive learning, mastery paths, and game-based education.

Games-based education works. Learning-based game developers, such as Pittsburgh’s Simcoach Games, can predict a kid’s aptitude for coding from a simple mobile game.

Even large video game makers like Gearbox have jumped in. Now inside “Borderlands” is a sub-game, where players can map the human gut microbiome to advance medical studies and earn in-game rewards.

Education systems are adapting, just like our kids. But that doesn’t mean every student is on the same playing field.

Tech Access Is Key

Especially now that so much learning is happening at home, parents play a critical role in their kids’ success. But the Instructure study showed two and half times as many kids from upper-class households felt extremely engaged as those from low-income families.

Dig deeper, and the divide becomes even clearer. Among students who responded feeling the least engaged, 65% self-identified as being in a lower economic class. More than half of them reported a lack of access to technology when they were in high school.

During a pandemic and a recession, parents can’t just flip a switch on things like household income or internet access. Those who are out of work may have to choose between things like paying rent or purchasing a computer for their kids.

Classroom amenities vary by school district, but in-person schooling does level the playing field. At home, not all kids have access to a strong Wi-Fi connection. Even fewer have a dedicated computer or tablet they can use throughout the school day.

What Parents Can Do

Every kid deserves access to technology for their education. The question is, what can parents and neighborhoods do to ensure kids going to school online don’t fall behind?

  • Pool their resources to purchase technology for low-income families.

  • Lobby the school district to allocate resources toward in-home technology upgrades.

  • Look into corporate or nonprofit programs designed to close the digital divide.

  • Donate old but useful devices to their school district.

The two biggest keys to success for kids are time and tech. Even if your child is getting both of those, there’s probably another kid nearby who isn’t.

We’re all in this together. Neighborhoods, parents, and districts have to work together to make sure kids don’t fall behind.

Invest in tools that make it fun for kids, and support their career choices. Even if you’re not sitting down each day to work on lessons together, you’ll make a big difference in their education.

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